Boniface, St.

, a celebrated saint of the eighth century, and usually styled the Apostle of Germany, was an Englishman, named Wilfrid, and born at C red ton or Kirton in Devonshire, about the year 680. He was educated from the age of thirteen in the monastery of Escancester or Exeter, and about three years after removed to Nutcell, in the diocese of Winchester, a monastery which was afterwards destroyed by the Danes, and was never rebuilt. Here he was instructed in the sacred and secular learning of the times; and at the age of thirty, was ordained priest, and became a zealous preacher. The same zeal prompted him to undertake the functions of a missionary among the pagans and with that view he went with two monks into Friezeland, about the year 716; but a war which broke out between Charles Martel, mayor of the French palace, and Radbod, king of Friezeland, rendering it impracticable to preach the gospel at that time, he returned to England with his companions. Still, however, zealously intent on the conversion of the pagans, he refused being elected abbot of Nutcell, on a vacancy which happened on his return; and having received recommendatory letters from the bishop of Winchester, went to Rome, and presented himself to the pope Gregory II. who encouraged his design, and gave him a commission for the conversion of the infidels, in the year 719. With this he went into Bavaria and Thuringia, and had considerable success: and Radbod, king of Friezeland, being now dead, he had an opportunity of visiting that country, where he co-Operated with Willibrod, another famous missionary, who would have appointed him his successor, which Wilfrid rt fused, because the pope had particularly enjoined him to preach in the eastern parts of Germany. Through Hesse, or a | considerable part of it, even to the confines of Saxony, he extended his pious labours, and had considerable success, although he suffered many hardships, and was often exposed to danger from the rage of the infidels.

After some time he returned to Rome, where Gregory II. consecrated him bishop of the new German churches, by the name of Boniface, a Roman name, which Gregory probably thought might procure from the German converts more respect to the pope, than an English one. Solicitous also to preserve his dignity, Gregory exacted from Boniface an oath of subjection to the papal authority, drawn up in very strong terms. Boniface then returned to the scenes of his mission, and had great success in Hesse, encouraged now by Charles Martel, the dominion of the French extending at this time a considerable way into Germany. We do not, however, find that he derived any other assistance from the civil authority, than personal protection, which doubtless was of great importance. If he complied with the instructions sent from England, he employed no means but what became a true missionary. These, instructions, or rather advice sent to him by Daniel, bishop of Winchester, about the year 723, afford too striking an instance of good sense and liberality in that dark age, to be omitted. Daniel’s method of dealing with idolaters was conceived in these words, “Do not contradict in a direct manner their accounts of the genealogy of their gods; allow that they were born from one another in the same way that mankind are: this concession will give you the advantage of proving, that there was a time when they had no existence. Ask them who governed the world before the birth of their gods, and if these gods have ceased to propagate? If they have not, shew them the consequence; namely, that the gods must be infinite in number, and that no man can rationally be at ease in worshipping any of them, lest he should, by that means, offend one, who is more powerful. Argue thus with them, not in the way of insult, but with temper and moderation: and take opportunities to contrast these absurdities with the Christian doctrine: let the pagans be rather ashamed than incensed by your oblique mode of stating these subjects. Shew them the insufficiency of their plea of antiquity; inform them that idolatry did anciently prevail over the world, but that Jesus Christ was manifested, in order to reconcile men to God by his grace.” From this same prelate he received other instructions respecting reforming the | church, and exercising discipline 'with the refractory and scandalous priests, who occasioned much obstruction to his mission. In the mean time, the report of his success induced many of his countrymen to join him, who dispersed themselves and preached in the villages of Hesse and Thuringia.

In the year 732, he received the title of archbishop from Gregory II f. who supported his mission with the same spirit as his predecessor Gregory II.; and under this encouragement he proceeded to erect new churches, and extend Christianity. At this time, he found the Bavarian churches disturbed by one Eremvolf, who would have seduced the people into idolatry, but whom he condemned, according to the canons, and restored the discipline of the church. In the year 738, he again visited Rome; and after some stay, he induced several Englishmen who resided there, to join with him in his German mission. Returning into Bavaria, he established three new bishoprics, at Salczburgh, Frisinghen, and Ratisbon. At length he was fixed at Mentz, in the year 745, and although afterwards many other churches in Germany have been raised to the dignity of archbishoprics, Mentz has always retained the primacy, in honour of St. Boniface. He also founded a monastery at Fridislar, another at Hamenburgh, and one at Ordorfe, in all which the monks gained their livelihood by the labour of their hands. In the year 746, he laid the foundation of the great abbey of Fulda, which continued long the most renowned seminary of religion and learning in all that part of the world. The abbot is now a prince of the empire. In the mean time his connection with England was constantly preserved; and it is in the epistolary correspondence with his own country, that the most striking evidence of his pious views appears. Still intent on his original design, although now advanced in years, he determined to return into Friezeland, and before his departure, acted as if he had a strong presentiment of what was to happen. He appointed Lullus, an Englishman, his successor as archbishop of Mentz, a privilege which the pope had granted him, and ordained him with the consent of king Pepin. He went by the Rhine to Friezeland, where, assisted by Eoban, whom he had ordained bishop of Utrecht, he brought great numbers of pagans into the pale of the church. He had appointed a day to confirm those whom he had baptized; and in | waiting for them, encamped with his followers on the banks of the Bordue, a river which then divided East and West Friezeland. His intention was to confirm, by imposition of hands, the converts in the plains of Dockum. On the appointed day, he beheld, in the morning, not the new converts whom he expected, but a troop of enraged pagans, armed with shields and lances. The servants went out to resist; but Boniface, with calm intrepidity, said to his followers, “Children, forbear to fight; the scripture forbids us to render evil for evil. The day which I have long waited for is come; hope in God, and he will save your souls.” The pagans immediately attacked them furiously, and killed the whole company, fifty-two in number, besides Boniface himself. This happened on June 5, 755, in the fortieth year after his arrival in Germany. His body was interred in the abbey of Fulda, and was long regarded as the greatest treasure of that monastery. Boniface’s character has been strangely misrepresented by Mosheim, and by his transcribers, but ably vindicated by Milner, who has examined the evidence on both sides with great precision. His works, principally sermons and correspondence, were published under the title “S. Bonifacii Opera, a Nicolao Serrario,” Mogunt. 1605, 4to. 1

1 Milner’s Church Hist. vol. III. p. 189. Dupin. Mosheim. Cave. Fabric. Bibl. Med. Lat. Saxii Ouomast Tanner in Wilfrid.